Home > Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(3)

Release Me (Stark Trilogy #1)(3)
Author: J. Kenner

“The truth is, I’m a terrible hostess. I do what I want, talk to whoever I want, and if my guests feel slighted they can damn well deal with it.”

I gape. I can almost hear my mother’s cries of horror all the way from Dallas.

“Besides,” she continues, “this party isn’t supposed to be about me. I put together this little shindig to introduce Blaine and his art to the community. He’s the one who should be doing the mingling, not me. I may be fucking him, but I’m not going to baby him.”

Evelyn has completely destroyed my image of how a hostess for the not-to-be-missed social event of the weekend is supposed to behave, and I think I’m a little in love with her for that.

“I haven’t met Blaine yet. That’s him, right?” I point to a tall reed of a man. He is bald, but sports a red goatee. I’m pretty sure it’s not his natural color. A small crowd hums around him, like bees drawing nectar from a flower. His outfit is certainly as bright as one.

“That’s my little center of attention, all right,” Evelyn says. “The man of the hour. Talented, isn’t he?” Her hand sweeps out to indicate her massive living room. Every wall is covered with paintings. Except for a few benches, whatever furniture was once in the room has been removed and replaced with easels on which more paintings stand.

I suppose technically they are portraits. The models are nudes, but these aren’t like anything you would see in a classical art book. There’s something edgy about them. Something provocative and raw. I can tell that they are expertly conceived and carried out, and yet they disturb me, as if they reveal more about the person viewing the portrait than about the painter or the model.

As far as I can tell, I’m the only one with that reaction. Certainly the crowd around Blaine is glowing. I can hear the gushing praise from here.

“I picked a winner with that one,” Evelyn says. “But let’s see. Who do you want to meet? Rip Carrington and Lyle Tarpin? Those two are guaranteed drama, that’s for damn sure, and your roommate will be jealous as hell if you chat them up.”

“She will?”

Evelyn’s brows arch up. “Rip and Lyle? They’ve been feuding for weeks.” She narrows her eyes at me. “The fiasco about the new season of their sitcom? It’s all over the Internet? You really don’t know them?”

“Sorry,” I say, feeling the need to apologize. “My school schedule was pretty intense. And I’m sure you can imagine what working for Carl is like.”

Speaking of …

I glance around, but I don’t see my boss anywhere.

“That is one serious gap in your education,” Evelyn says. “Culture—and yes, pop culture counts—is just as important as—what did you say you studied?”

“I don’t think I mentioned it. But I have a double major in electrical engineering and computer science.”

“So you’ve got brains and beauty. See? That’s something else we have in common. Gotta say, though, with an education like that, I don’t see why you signed up to be Carl’s secretary.”

I laugh. “I’m not, I swear. Carl was looking for someone with tech experience to work with him on the business side of things, and I was looking for a job where I could learn the business side. Get my feet wet. I think he was a little hesitant to hire me at first—my skills definitely lean toward tech—but I convinced him I’m a fast learner.”

She peers at me. “I smell ambition.”

I lift a shoulder in a casual shrug. “It’s Los Angeles. Isn’t that what this town is all about?”

“Ha! Carl’s lucky he’s got you. It’ll be interesting to see how long he keeps you. But let’s see … who here would intrigue you …?”

She casts about the room, finally pointing to a fifty-something man holding court in a corner. “That’s Charles Maynard,” she says. “I’ve known Charlie for years. Intimidating as hell until you get to know him. But it’s worth it. His clients are either celebrities with name recognition or power brokers with more money than God. Either way, he’s got all the best stories.”

“He’s a lawyer?”

“With Bender, Twain & McGuire. Very prestigious firm.”

“I know,” I say, happy to show that I’m not entirely ignorant, despite not knowing Rip or Lyle. “One of my closest friends works for the firm. He started here but he’s in their New York office now.”

“Well, come on, then, Texas. I’ll introduce you.” We take one step in that direction, but then Evelyn stops me. Maynard has pulled out his phone, and is shouting instructions at someone. I catch a few well-placed curses and eye Evelyn sideways. She looks unconcerned “He’s a pussycat at heart. Trust me, I’ve worked with him before. Back in my agenting days, we put together more celebrity biopic deals for our clients than I can count. And we fought to keep a few tell-alls off the screen, too.” She shakes her head, as if reliving those glory days, then pats my arm. “Still, we’ll wait ’til he calms down a bit. In the meantime, though …”

She trails off, and the corners of her mouth turn down in a frown as she scans the room again. “I don’t think he’s here yet, but—oh! Yes! Now there’s someone you should meet. And if you want to talk views, the house he’s building has one that makes my view look like, well, like yours.” She points toward the entrance hall, but all I see are bobbing heads and haute couture. “He hardly ever accepts invitations, but we go way back,” she says.

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